Sunday, January 3, 2010

Holiest of Holy Matrimonies

I was browsing through the internet in my daily routine search for some new fact of life to add to my knowledge, and I came across an interesting one, something that is actually on my agenda within the next few years: Marriage. Actually I was checking the quite opposite of it, the divorce rates across different countries. Not at all surprisingly, they were amongst the highest in America, at around 40-50% according to various estimates, including the census; Indian rates were, just as not-so-surprisingly, amongst the lowest in the world at around 2%. It doesnt take an anthropological genius to figure out that these are very much the product of the way society is structured in each of the two countries. The countries are about 7000 miles apart, but the culture is further astronomically apart.

According to my anthropological point of view (both emic and emig really), this is a result of one of the main aspects of society's function and foundation: Personal Expression. In the case of the States, society furiously encourages every person to pursue the freedom of expression, keeping the concept of Individuality at the center of its culture. Everyone is allowed and promoted to do everything they wish, paving the path for the creation of individuals who demand customization and compatibility. So when it comes to the issue of marriage and assumingly spending the rest of time alive with one person, Americans tend be a bit reluctant and demanding. They want someone who does what they like and likes what they do. Also at fault is the way interested individuals meet a prospect, usually at bars, offices, or other rather social gatherings where everyone's individuality is ironically diluted. So it doesnt take long for them to realize that he or she isnt right for them, and thus the ephemeral marriage. And the last thing I think responsible for the brevity is the American's incontinence. They seem to have an insatiable appetite for pleasure and comfort, something not even the close family and relatives provide in the States, let alone a stranger. They become bored and passive to the mundane and so-damn routine life, always looking to "spicing things up". They are less able and more prone to the tedious and unrelenting relation that is marriage, failing to compromise and adjusting to their wives or husbands, and thanks to things like alcohol, Prozac and prostitutes, they eek out their relationship until someday...

On the other end of the Pacific ocean, their Asian counterparts are very well adjusted and excited about the married life, especially the Indians. Marriage is seen as an essential and incomparable experience a person has to go through in order to not only live a better and happy life, but to understand it as well. And so almost everyone I have come across anticipates it with amazing eagerness. The way two people meet for the marriage is also amazingly processed and directed by society, usually along caste, ethnic, regional or occupational lines. So these parameters ensure that if there is a budding individuality residing in a person, the other might some how compliment and supplement it. Also other cultural phenomenons such as the assumed role of a wife and husband, along with the subversive one being delegated to the woman ensure most marriages go through life just fine, although it is starting to change (for good obviously) as education and liberalism are encouraged in the more urban areas. A husband and wife are usually brought together by relatives who start searching for them ,like the cops searching for a suspect, whenever the boy or girl becomes eligible, that is usually after finishing education and establishing a career. They are matched at first with the caste or career choice, then with physical aspects such as height and skin color (read my other article about north Indian's fascination with "fair complexion"), and lastly by the economic and social standing of the family. Yes the process seems extremely regimented, but every step has become very relaxed and liberal as time has passed. These are the so called "arranged marriages", that are so often mentioned about Indian culture, not the same at all as "fixed marriages" that the Westerners think is the only way, where the couple is somewhat forced and coaxed into marrying each other. The other type that is becoming more and more common is the "love marriage" which is the way people in most westernized countries marry, by simply falling in love. This is more prevalent in the urban centers of India as shops and domestication are replaced by working women and men in big offices and corporations, making it easier to comb through the pool for someone to fall in love with. But regardless of each category, marriages usually last forever as they should, although not with happy, fairy tale endings or without domestic or spousal abuse as can be expected from a society that has hierarchy at its core, but at least they last....

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